Friday, May 11, 2012


Book: The Devotion of Suspect X
Author: Keigo Higashino
Translators: Alexander O Smith and Elye J Alexander
Publisher: Hachette India
Price: Rs 350
Pages: 374


This murder mystery, unlike others, does not start as a typical ‘whodunit’. Nor is there any doubt about the how, why or when aspects. The only mystery lies in how the mystery is unraveled and the truth revealed.

Detectives of the Tokyo Police, Inspector Kusanagi and Kishitani, seek to solve the crime using the tools of their trade, questioning suspects, finding holes in assumptions and tearing down alibis. But it is physics professor Manaba Yukawa, known to the police force as ‘Detective Galileo,’ who succeeds in unraveling the mystery.

In most murder mysteries, you, as the reader, are allied firmly on the side of the law, trying to make sense of the clues that the Omnipotent Author throws so haphazardly in your way, trying desperately, but in vain, to clear the air before the detective does, and finally finding that the one person you had forgotten to find guilty is the one who is the killer. Here Keigo Higashino puts you firmly on the side of the killers, sympathizing with them against an exploiter and seeing things from their viewpoint. And so you find yourself wincing with increasing discomfort as the physicist gets dangerously close to discovering the truth.

Yusako Hanaoka and her teenage daughter, Misato, from her first marriage are leading an ordinary life in Tokyo, safe from the machinations of Yusako’s abusive ex-husband, Togashi. When Togashi drops in unexpectedly at the lunchbox shop where she works and later at home, it throws the duo’s peaceful and orderly life out of kilter. An altercation takes place between an on-the-edge Yusako and a menacing Togashi. When the latter makes a seedy remark against his ex-stepdaughter, Yusako takes offence. A struggle ensues between the mother-daughter and their adversary, and the thin line between killing in self-defence and willful murder gets crossed.

Their neighbor, Ishigami, a high school maths teacher and judo instructor and a mathematics wizard who secretly has a crush on Yusako, becomes their willing accomplice when he makes their problem his own. He not only helps the mother-daughter duo to dispose of the body but also tutors them to construct an airtight alibi for themselves. “Logical thinking will get us through this,” says the genius as he seeks to use his brilliant mind to extricate them out of their predicament.

His elaborate efforts to destroy the corpse’s face and so thwart identification, and his attempts to plot and offer false clues serve their purpose and the police investigation gets horribly entangled. As the inspector tightens the net around Yusako, Ishigami, with the impenetrable mask for a face, remains unfazed. For the most part, he continues to advise Yusako about how best to fend off the police.

However, when Yukawa, who turns out to be an old friend and classmate of Ishigami’s, becomes interested in the game on his own account, and uses logic to see through the ploys and draw the net tighter around the culprits, the maths teacher feels cornered for the very first time.

Even as I expected Ishigami to come up with another killer escape route, came the ending, unexpected and banal. I began to wonder, is this the book that has become a phenomenon across Japan? Is this the book that has been made into a cult film? Has the writer of this banal ending been described as a Japanese Stieg Larsson?

Just as I wondered what the fuss was all about came a dénouement as striking and impactful as the bathos and melodrama it had seemed to be full of a short while ago.

The ending was a little gruesome. But the puzzle, like a mathematics problem, that is beautiful in its total reliance on logic, was complete. Every missing piece was in place.

Surely Higashino, like his character Ishigami, was a genius! If only he had ended the story at that climactic high…

Unfortunately in the third and definitive part of the conclusion, Higashino resorted to banality once again.

Fortunately for him, I was quite impressed by the high and by a greater part of the novel and I forgave him his lack of judgement about the end.

Read the novel to find out for yourself how Ishigami constructed an elaborate scheme to save the woman he loved and her daughter. When cold, emotionless mathematicians fall in love, it is only fitting that it would be with a devotion such as this.

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